What I've Learned By Making And Promoting A Game To Help Stray Cats

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@marianpekarMarian Pekár

At the beginning of summer 2019, I've got an idea to make a cat-themed game to help stray cats by donating all the revenue to cat charities.
And the game called My Nine Lives has been released almost exactly one year after that, on May 31, 2020.
In this article, I'd like to share with you what I've learned during the process of making the game and also by promoting this side-project with no budget.

Volunteering is scarce

When I've announced in several Reddit communities, that I'm working on a game to help stray cats, a few people offered me a help enthusiastically, but when I tried to assign them a task, they just disappeared.
All of them, like puff.
I quickly realized I'm going to have to manage every aspect of the project by myself. It was disappointing at first, but now I'm glad, because I've learned a lot.

Building a game itself is just half of the work

Make a game is relatively easy these days, a lot of work has been already done for you, all you need to do is to grab it and build your game upon it.
This is both a curse and a blessing. Since making games is so easy, a couple of new games will be released before you finish this article (even if you're a fast reader).
Without any promotion, no one, and I mean literally no one, will buy your game, no matter how good it would be.
Yes, you might be extremely lucky and your game will be somehow discovered and then become a viral hit. You might as well be lucky and win a millions dollars in a lottery.
Assuming you are not going to bet on luck and also not going to hire anyone to manage it for you, there will be a lot of work you'll have to do, besides building the game itself.
But it might be fun! You'll be shamelessly sharing the game wherever and whenever you can, you'll be sending emails with link to your press-kit to journalists, asking for a coverage, you may speak in a podcast or reply to a dozens of comments.
I have to admit, I've enjoyed promoting My Nine Lives sometimes equally as I've enjoyed making it.

“Build a game, not a technology” was a great advice

I love challenges and building things from scratch, I've spent a lot of time playing with SDL and OpenGL just for fun, but when the goal is to make a game, I follow “Build a game, not a technology” advice instead of trying to reinvent the wheel.
As I wrote in the previous section, a lot of work has been already done for you. A lot of very hard and tedious work, actually.

I've made a few casual games since I discovered Unity engine in 2017, and though I also have some experience with Unreal Engine, for me, it was quite an easy decision to build this game with Unity.
These two very popular game engines, are not the only options, of course, there are many other game engines like Godot, CryEngine and so on.
The point is, if you want to build a game, choose an engine that suits your needs (both technologically and license-wise) and learn how to use it, rather than start building your game from scratch.

“Don't be a jack-of-all-trades” wasn't actually much good of an advice

I've heard these a lot when I started to be interested in making games: “Don't be a jack-of-all-trades”, “Pick one hat and stick with that”, “Become an expert in one particular thing.” and so on.
And it seemed to be reasonable at first. Why would anyone disagree with that, right? Well, I partially disagree (or partially agree) now.
It's definitely good to be focused on mastering one thing, but there still might be plenty of time to get at decent level with other things as well, plus those interconnections between skills strengthen them all.
I'm a programmer, writing code is “my thing”, but I'm glad for those years when I was working as a graphic designer and that I've learned how to use Blender, or produce a various types of audiovisual content.
While working on My Nine Lives, I've utilized many different skills, besides programming, for example to animate a 3D model, produce sound effects or make this trailer I'm quite proud of.

Crisis was inevitable

After a couple of months, when I was working on the project mostly after work and on weekends, I suddenly started to lose the initial ardor.

And then it went worse and I completely stopped for a few weeks. What helped me to get back on track again? First, I knew something like that could happen, so I've set a very safe deadline and release date.
I've started to work on other but very short-term projects, like a game jam that has been finished in two days, and then, the ardor for My Nine Lives suddenly came back out of nowhere.
Lesson learned here is to always count there might be a crisis, especially in a solo side-project. Set a reasonable deadline, and when it comes, just don't struggle and let it happen.
Don't be hard on yourself. Go with the flow and it will bring you where you suppose to be.

Promoting on Reddit worked way better than on Twitter

I was quite surprised by this. I always thought in most Reedit communities you must follow the rules strictly, otherwise your post will be down-voted to hell or rather immediately removed by mod or a mod-bot.
In fact, many communities are like that and sometimes it's even a bit nonsensical, as in case of a couple of Reddit communities for “cat-lovers“, which don't allow to promote a project dedicated to helping stray cats.
It turned out, they only want adorable pictures and videos of cats, but help stray cats? No thanks, not our thing, try it elsewhere.
On the other hand, after I've shared link to My Nine Lives in r/gamernews, there were 2K up-votes and more than 3K people visited the website in next 24 hours.
I had success also in several other communities, surprisingly in those not directly focused on cats. That's quite odd, don't you think?
Twitter is generally much more open for promotion than Reddit, but it seems to be reduced to a “follow factory” lately more than ever before.
Though I've put much more effort to promotion on Twitter, there is, in average, just 1 acquisition from Twitter for 50 acquisitions from Reddit. Bummer, because I really like Twitter.

Go Windows-only and you'll lose a lot of potential

If you think the majority of people play on Windows, you're right, but there's still a lot of people playing on Linux. And I mean... A LOT!
Since with modern game engines you can build for more platforms with almost no extra effort, there is absolutely no reason not to target both Windows and Linux.
Then you can promote your game with hashtags like #linuxgaming on Twitter, share in r/linux_gaming and r/linux on Reddit, your game could be mentioned on GamingOnLinux.com and many many other places.
Community of Linux gamers may be bigger than you think.

Always reply with a positive attitude, even on a dumb or slightly hostile comment

Some people are jerks and some people are so bitter, they use every opportunity to tell you how stupid and useless your project is. Obviously, you always have two options, ignore them or reply.
The first is completely legit, when someone really just threw an insult I simply ignore or delete such comment, if possible, with no hesitation.
But In case of a comment that is just dumb, I think it's better to always reply with a positive attitude and add a drop of diplomacy.

By the way, there is a book called How To Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie. I've read it twice and wrote many side notes. It's a great book.

Embrace critique

In the end, I'd like to briefly mention there is a huge difference between hostile comment a critique that you could learn a lot from. It's not hard to recognize the difference.
I'm always grateful when people took an effort to point out weaker sides of my game and I usually take notes. When you take your ego out of it, there's so much you could learn from negative or not-entirely-positive feedback.
I think ego could be your most vicious enemy, and I actually wrote a short article a couple of weeks ago just about it.

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